SBJ/February 13-19, 2012/Olympics

Greek yogurt signs on with Team USA

Buoyed by rapid growth, Greek yogurt brand Chobani is jumping into sports sponsorship, signing its first-ever agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The USOC signed Chobani, a sports sponsorship newcomer, through the 2014 Sochi Games.
The New York-based yogurt company, which launched in 2007 and is the category leader in Greek yogurt, will be the official packaged yogurt of Team USA through the 2014 Sochi Games. Financial terms of the deal were not available. Chobani (pronounced cho-BAN-ee, meaning “shepherd”) signed on at the USOC’s sponsor level alongside 24 Hour Fitness, Hilton and Allstate, and those deals typically are worth more than $3 million a year.

Chobani plans to market its ties to Team USA throughout the build-up to the London Games in July. It plans to put the USA five-ring logo on packaging at retail, advertise across TV, print and digital mediums, and sample product from its Cho-mobile at U.S. Olympic Trial competitions.

“We were looking to align ourselves with a leader and a property that reflects similar values to our brand,” said Doron Stern, vice president of marketing at Chobani. “We wanted a brand that was passionate, authentic and inspires great hope. We found a great fit with the Olympic team.”

The deal is the second new brand the USOC has signed in the last three months. It signed DeVry University as its official education provider last November. Both DeVry and Chobani filled new categories for the USOC.

“You’re seeing, hopefully, continued momentum, and we’ll be able to exceed our sponsor goals,” said USOC chief marketer Lisa Baird. “We’re diversifying and welcoming new sponsors like Chobani and DeVry that see the value of our brand.”

Chobani was founded in upstate New York in 2007 by Hamdi Ulukaya, a 40-year-old immigrant from Turkey. It has quickly become the third-most-recognizable yogurt in the country and leads the Greek yogurt category with a 19 percent share, according to IRI InfoScan Reviews, a market research firm. Men’s Health magazine named it to its list of the “Best 125 Packaged Foods for Men,” praising it for having double the protein of most yogurts with only 140 calories.

The company rolled out its first marketing and advertising campaign last year. Its “A real Chobani love story” campaign ran on national cable and network channels and was complemented by an out-of-home and digital marketing effort. Chobani’s market share increased by 50 percent after the campaign, Stern said.

As it looked for ways to further its growth, the Chobani marketing team began discussing sponsoring the Olympics. One of the staffers had a connection with the USOC and emailed it to learn about how sponsorships worked. The company hooked up with IMG late last year, and the sports company’s Olympic division assisted Chobani in its negotiations.

“We want to continue to build separation between us and other players (in the yogurt category),” Stern said, adding that the Chobani team believed that the USOC offered an effective way to do that.

In addition to TV, digital and mobile marketing, Chobani will have its product available to Team USA members at the training center in London. Stern said he’s hoping that will result in genuine and unprompted athlete endorsements.

“If we can get some play from a PR perspective and some viral, that’d be great, but we really want to fuel the athletes,” Stern said.

In addition to working with IMG, Chobani works with Leo Burnett and OMD for media, Fleishman-Hillard for public relations and Big Spaceship for digital.

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